Politics of North Korea
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The politics of North Korea takes place within the framework of the official state philosophy, Juche, a concept created by Hwang Chang-yŏp and later attributed to Kim Il-sung. In practice, North Korea functions as a single-party state under a totalitarian family dictatorship, described even as an absolute monarchy with Kim Il-sung and his heirs as its rulers.
The Economist Intelligence Unit, while admitting that "there is no consensus on how to measure democracy" and that "definitions of democracy are contested," lists North Korea as the most authoritarian regime in its index of democracy assessing 167 countries.
North Korea's political system is built upon the principle of centralization. While the North Korean constitution formally guarantees protection of human rights, in practice there are severe limits on freedom of expression, and the government closely supervises the lives of North Korean citizens. The constitution defines the DPRK as "a dictatorship of people's democracy" under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea, which is given legal supremacy over other political parties. Despite the constitution's provisions for democracy, in practice, the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un (grandson of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung), exercises absolute control over the government and the country.
The ruling Workers' Party (WPK), is thought to allow some slight inner-party democracy (see Democratic centralism). The WPK has been in power since its creation in 1948. Two minor political parties also exist, but are legally bound to accept the ruling role of the WPK. Elections occur only in single-candidate races where the candidate is effectively selected beforehand by the WPK. Kim Il-sung ruled the country from 1948 until his death in July 1994, holding the offices of General Secretary of the WPK from 1949 to 1994 (titled as Chairman from 1949 to 1972), Prime Minister of North Korea from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994.
He was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il. While the younger Kim had been his father's designated successor since the 1980s, it took him three years to consolidate his power. He was named to his father's old post of General Secretary in 1997, and in 1998 became chairman of the National Defence Commission, which gave him command of the armed forces. The constitution was amended to make the NDC chairmanship "the highest post in the state." At the same time, the presidential post was written out of the constitution, and Kim Il-sung was designated "Eternal President of the Republic" in order to honor his memory forever. Most analysts believe the title to be a product of the cult of personality he cultivated during his life.
The Western world generally views North Korea as a dictatorship; the government has formally replaced all references to Marxism-Leninism in its constitution with the locally developed concept of Juche, or self-reliance. In recent years, there has been great emphasis on the Songun or "military-first" philosophy. All references to communism were removed from the North Korean constitution in 2009.
The status of the military has been enhanced, and it appears to occupy the center of the North Korean political system; all the social sectors are forced to follow the military spirit and adopt military methods. Kim Jong-il's public activity focused heavily on on-the-spot guidance of places and events related to the military. The enhanced status of the military and military-centered political system was confirmed at the first session of the 10th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) by the promotion of NDC members into the official power hierarchy. All ten NDC members were ranked within the top twenty on September 5, and all but one occupied the top twenty at the fiftieth anniversary of the National Foundation Day on September 9.
Political parties and elections
According to the constitution, North Korea is a Democratic Republic and the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) and Provincial People's Assemblies (PPA) are elected by direct universal suffrage and secret ballot. Suffrage is guaranteed to all citizens aged 17 and over. In reality, elections in North Korea are non-competitive and feature single-candidate races only. Those who want to vote against the sole candidate on the ballot must go to a special booth to cross out the candidate's name before dropping it into the ballot box—an act which, according to many North Korean defectors, is far too risky to even contemplate.
All elected candidates are members of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, a popular front dominated by the WPK. The two minor parties in the coalition are the Chondoist Chongu Party and the Korean Social Democratic Party; they also have a few elected officials. The WPK exercises direct control over the candidates selected for election by members of the other two parties.
|Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland
Originally a close ally of Stalin's USSR, North Korea has taken steps to isolate itself from the rest of the world Communist movement. Juche, an ideology of self-reliance, replaced Marxism–Leninism as the official ideology when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972. In 2009, the constitution was amended again, quietly removing the brief references to communism (Chosŏn'gŭl: 공산주의).
For much of its history, North Korean politics have been dominated by its adversarial relationship with South Korea. During the Cold War, North Korea aligned with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. The North Korean government invested heavily in its military, hoping to develop the capability to reunify Korea by force if possible and also preparing to repel any attack by South Korea or the United States. Following the doctrine of Juche, North Korea aimed for a high degree of economic independence and the mobilization of all the resources of the nation to defend Korean sovereignty against foreign powers.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the loss of Soviet aid, North Korea faced a long period of economic crisis, including severe agricultural and industrial shortages. North Korea's main political issue has been to find a way to sustain its economy without compromising the internal stability of its government or its ability to respond to perceived external threats. To date, North Korean efforts to improve relations with South Korea to increase trade and to receive development assistance have been mildly successful, but North Korea's determination to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has prevented stable relations with both South Korea and the United States. North Korea has also experimented with market economics in some sectors of its economy, but these have had limited impact. Some outside observers have suggested that Kim Jong-il himself favored such reforms but that some parts of the party and the military resisted any changes that might threaten stability.
Although there are occasional reports of signs of opposition to the government, these appear to be isolated, and there is no evidence of major internal threats to the current regime. Some foreign analysts have pointed to widespread starvation, increased emigration through North Korea-China border, and new sources of information about the outside world for ordinary North Koreans as factors pointing to an imminent collapse of the regime. However, North Korea has remained stable in spite of more than a decade of such predictions. The Workers' Party of Korea maintains a monopoly on political power and Kim Jong-il remained the leader of the country until 2011, ever since he first gained power following the death of his father.
According to Cheong Seong-chang of Sejong Institute, speaking on June 25, 2012, there is some possibility that the new leader Kim Jong-un, who has greater visible interest in the welfare of his people and engages in greater interaction with them than his father did, will consider economic reforms and normalization of international relations.
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Although it was in that 1955 speech that Kim gave full voice to his arguments for juche, he had been talking along similar lines as early as 1948.
- DPRK has quietly amended its Constitution (Archived at WebCite)
- Song Sang-ho (June 27, 2012). "N.K. leader seen moving toward economic reform". The Korea Herald. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
- The North Korean International Documentation Project
- North Korea Uncovered, a comprehensive mapping on Google Earth of the DPRK's political and economic infrastructure